I've known of Hama beads for quite some time; when I first started teaching in 2001 the after school club used them frequently as an activity, and I will confess that occasionally I could be found skiving from my marking and making a flower badge with a child helping me out and giving me tips. I've also seen various 'compatible' brands to the more well-known Hama beads but I haven't come across any suitable for children under five years old until recently.
The problem with traditional Hama beads is that they are very small and fiddly for younger children. While they are able to pick them up fairly easily (after all they only have little fingers themselves), placing them in the correct place on the template proves more challenging for children with developing fine motor skills. The Maxi Hama Beads, which we were sent by Play Merrily, are ideal for children of The Boy's age (three-four years) because they are twice the size of the original beads, which also means that the pegs on the template aren't so difficult to use.
The pack contains beads in a variety of colours, and three templates to use (a lorry, an aeroplane and a boat) along with four plastic stands to display the finished artwork, ironing paper and a sheet of designs to help create the masterpieces.
The Boy couldn't wait to get started on making one and eventually chose the lorry to start with. I placed the whole set up on a tray which meant it could be easily set aside to complete another time, the projects aren't large and they aren't complicated, three year olds have a limited attention span and I knew he wouldn't complete it in one sitting. The maxi beads are much easier to use than the traditional size, and he found no difficulty in placing them on the right peg. The added bonus in this activity is the mathematical development as he had to count out how many pegs he needed to fill with a colour, assess length and direction.
On the larger patches of one colour, I did need to help him fill in those sections, but he found following the plan very easy. And it was only after two sessions of 15 minutes each that we'd finished his lorry artwork.
Of course, the choice then is whether or not to empty the template out and reuse the beads another day, or to iron them and keep the creation. We decided to keep it, and using the ironing paper I had quickly melted one side of the Hama beads, ensuring they joined together. I personally always melt both sides as I find it makes it stronger and less prone to damage, which did mean it needed to be left a little longer out of his reach to cool down. However, it creates a very sturdy 'sculpture' indeed which he loves to play with and examine.
Hama beads, especially the maxi ones, are useful in other activities too like threading with pipecleaners, which is a great fine motor-skill activity. In fact, Hama beads are a marvellous play resource to promote hand-eye co-ordination and manual dexterity. A big 'thumbs up' from us!
We were sent this product for the purpose of this review, my opinion is honest and unbiased.